An open letter to Ayelet Shaked: Implement a just and fair application of the original Law of Return

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Israeli Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked (Photo: Facebook)

Do You Even Know What You’ve Inherited?

Although I know little about you, the fact that you are the new head of the Interior Ministry is like a breath of fresh air when compared to your predecessors who held the ministry hostage for far too many years, piling on new and oppressive hoops for prospective eligible immigrants to jump through. Under their watch, the Law of Return became weaponized to keep out any individuals who, although rightly entitled to citizenship, were denied entrance into their ancestral homeland simply due to the stringency they added.

It is ironic to look back, to a time, many years ago, when the simple question was asked, “Are you Jewish” as the only prerequisite to having your application stamped “approved.”  It’s understandable, that with the passage of time, a more thorough check of one’s ethnic background needed to be implemented just to make sure that non-Jews would not end up reaping the benefits which were meant for Jewish born citizens or those with Jewish parents or grandparents. Such was the spirit of the Law of Return. Consequently, individuals were asked to provide marriage certificates, Jewish cemetery plots of parents/grandparents or other valid documentation which could authenticate their being part of the Jewish people.

Yet, it’s notable to point out that before the ultra-Orthodox took over the reins to that office, none of those requested proofs of birth and ancestry included a letter from a rabbi stating that the individual had been directly involved in the events, education or religious services of their local Jewish community. Of course, it was quite right not to demand such lifestyle choices, given that the Law of Return, itself, did not require it.

Suddenly, under the management of Arye Deri, and others of his persuasion, it seemed that all the clerks conducting the routine immigration interviews became suspect of those sitting across from them, often casting doubt on the validity of their claims of Jewish ethnicity. It began to be the case that if you were discovered to be outside the fold of Orthodox Judaism, you were in for a rough time. It didn’t matter if your parents or grandparents were Holocaust survivors, you easily could have still been looked upon with a jaundiced eye. The resulting consequences were that many were forced to enter into a long, protracted fight, often having to employ the services of an attorney in order to bring the case before the courts. Those who weren’t financially able to take on such a burden or those who were already somewhat elderly ended up throwing in the towel, feeling that it just wasn’t worth the stress or pain. Yet others persevered, because life in Israel was their dream, so they were prepared to go the distance, but the question begs to be asked – should anyone have had to endure such roadblocks?

The Jewish homeland, with all it went through to be created and birthed into existence, should have warmly welcomed and embraced any eligible individuals who shared the vision of a return to the land of their forefathers and to the birthplace of Zionism. By making that journey, they, too, were throwing in their lot with those from their heritage and bloodline.  To deny them the recognition of their shared destiny in the one safe haven for Jews, is not much different from those nations who refused to take in Jews, whether secular or religious, during perilous periods of history.

In short, this is what you’ve inherited – a completely dysfunctional and self-serving bureaucratic ministry which has chosen to act in blatant disregard to the Law in favor of an exclusive, elite club which turns down membership to what is seen as a lesser class who are not quite worthy enough to join their ranks.

Whether or not the Interior Ministry is willing to admit it, the fact is that the vast majority of Jews, today, do not match up with a “one-size fits all” peoplehood. Jews come in all forms and stripes – everything from the ultra-Orthodox, to the extreme Neturei Karta group who eschew the State’s creation. Today’s Jews also come in the form of totally secular ethnic Jews who have no religious leanings all the way to those who even deny the existence of G-d. If the Interior Ministry is waiting for all of those diverse pockets of Jews to unite under one singularly held doctrine or belief, then it will never see the fulfillment of the prophets who predicted the regathering of all the exiles back to their land.

In truth, you have inherited a ministry which may have been the most responsible agency for actually preventing Jews who have wanted to return to their homeland. Here are just a few cases in point: (In an effort to maintain the privacy of these people, no names are being cited)

  • Individuals who were born Jewish but who held a different belief have continually been denied citizenship and told to leave the country within 30-45 days. Although your own personal faith choices should be a matter of conscience, they ultimately ended up being the citizenship death knell.
  • A prominent Jewish scientist fought a two-year battle for citizenship to receive what should have been a simple acceptance after having presented her voluminous paperwork showing her proof of ethnicity. Her rights were only approved after her case was brought to the attention of the public through the media.
  • The daughter of Holocaust survivor who applied for citizenship was denied and faced deportation from Israel.
  • A young woman who had been born Jewish but adopted by non-Jews underwent years of fighting for what she had been told would be an easy and sure process. During the years of waiting that she endured, her chronically ill child could not receive proper healthcare due to the bureaucratic nightmare which kept her case in limbo, putting the child’s life in grave danger.
  • Jewish born individuals were accused of having converted to another religion when they hadn’t, and it was up to them to prove their innocence rather than the Interior Ministry having to prove the facts of such a formal conversion. Those people also had to fight a court battle.
  • Israeli born individuals have been harassed when marrying non-Jews and attempting to provide them with permanent status, a right which is afforded to any Sabra to marry whomever they choose and continue to live with their spouse in their country of birth.
  • Matters of registration of birth, marriages and other important life events are solely and arbitrarily controlled by the Interior Ministry, often denying the rightful and lawful registration of these events simply because they can.
  • Jewish individuals with impeccable documentation have been slow-walked through their immigration process since Covid, despite the fears of many who no longer feel safe in their countries of origin as the spread of anti-Semitism has arisen at an alarming pace.

There are many, many more examples which are too voluminous to cite in one article, but the above are just a few for you to chew on.

As the new head of this important ministry – possibly the most vital of all ministries, since it controls the lives of all of its citizens and prospective citizens, it would be a welcomed effort, on your part, to implement just and fair application of the original Law of Return in order to allow all Jews entrance to the only Jewish State in the world – regardless of how these Jews choose to live their lives. Israel is already a patchwork of individuals who comprise a plethora of thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs and diverse personalities. Is it justified that because they were born here, they have those freedoms available to them as opposed to those who are seeking to join this wonderful and blessed society?

Perhaps, you, as Queen Esther, have been appointed to head the Interior Ministry “for such a time as this.” We, as a people, stand on the precipice of uncertain and dangerous times which hold much peril for those who struggle to be recognized as legitimate Jews by birth and who remain unable to be welcomed into our midst. Please do the right and humane thing for the whole of world Jewry by finally opening the doors to those for which the Law of Return was meant to receive – ALL JEWS!!!

The original article appeared on Aug. 5, 2021 on the Times of Israel personal blog of Cookie Schwaeber-Issan and has been granted permission for re-publication.